The cloud, just like many technological ‘products’, is one of those things that intimidates many small business owners simply due to the jargon aspect of it, which creates a lack of understanding. This is the reason that the technology has taken a while to gain mainstream traction, although it has actually been around for a couple of decades.
Think Gmail, for example, it’s a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering that has been around for ages now, and yes, it’s a cloud service. That will give you some idea of how long the technology has been available and even in use by small businesses.
So what exactly is the cloud? To bring it down to basics, cloud services refer to those which are hosted on powerful server clusters within a data center. The latter is usually highly secure and uses equipment that is out of reach financially for many SMBs. Cloud services vary from hosted software and services offerings to entire hosted IT infrastructures. Add to this that it’s a service that’s paid for monthly, with no capital outlay upfront, and small businesses can now finally play in the same ballpark when it comes to access to technology that can seriously boost business.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what services can be accessed by small businesses and the benefits that they provide.
In the old days, small businesses usually relied on a local IT guy to come and fix technology issues after things went wrong. In tech, this is known as the break-fix model and has never been a perfect one as it was reactive rather than proactive. The only time a business would see the IT guy was if something was wrong, and it needed to be fixed. This could, of course, mean disaster for the small business, especially those with sensitive data to protect as if that data is lost, often so is the business itself.
In fact, according to a survey carried out by the British Insurance Broker’s Association (BIBA):
“90% of those (small businesses) who lose their data are forced to close down within two years.”
As many small businesses couldn’t afford to pay for ongoing service contracts, this meant that the business goals of the IT support firm and its client never really aligned until the cloud came along.
Managed services are simply a range of services that are offered by an IT support company such as:
- Systems monitoring – workstations and servers can be monitored remotely to alert the IT support company to potential problems before they occur, such as a security breach or failing hardware.
- Managed security – allows all systems to have antivirus deployed automatically, software patches always up-to-date, and monitoring put in place to detect a hacker or DDoS attack. Patching systems is a big area in which organizations of all sizes fall down as it’s not viewed as important. Basically, it means that when a potential vulnerability is found by software developers such as Microsoft, Adobe, and others, it’s ‘patched’ before a hacker or malware attack can exploit it. However, while these updates are released regularly by software companies, they are often ignored by the end-user, creating security issues that can mean malware (malicious software) infection takes place easily.
- Backup and recovery – one of the most important aspects of business in the digital age is the ability to backup data effectively and regularly. Again, this is something that many simply fail to carry out or use tape drives that are not regularly tested. Adopting a hybrid approach and using both tape and cloud backup is an ideal solution – it’s never a good idea to keep all data on-premise as one fire or flood and the business is potentially finished.
So that’s a brief overview of managed services, which are mostly carried out remotely and are highly affordable in terms of both the lack of capital outlay and the ability to pre-empt problems and avoid downtime and data loss.
This is a far-reaching term, and many cloud services fall under this umbrella, including hosted software (think Office 365), email hosting (Hosted Exchange, for example), and virtual hosted desktop.
The latter allows a full desktop to be hosted within the data center servers so that it can be accessed from any device, so long as there’s an available internet connection and a login account. The desktop can be fully customized, and all applications that are used are also hosted in the cloud and available to the end-user. Even desktop backgrounds and suchlike are consistently available across devices, making it an ideal choice for businesses that use remote workers and/or field staff.
This is where a business network, including servers, web servers, and email, are hosted in a data center, and again, this does away with the need for a large amount of cash to be outlaid by a business to have an IT infrastructure. This is now quickly becoming a more popular cloud service and is catching up SaaS in popularity.
Powerful servers and a good network are often very expensive to set up, so the option of being able to have a hosted infrastructure is an attractive one too small business. Again, it’s a monthly pay service, and as with all cloud services is highly flexible and scalable. You can increase power and storage space easily, or remove as required, meaning that your business only ever pays for what it needs.
This is a must for businesses of all sizes and is perfect for protecting and retaining data, especially when used in a hybrid scenario where traditional backup procedures are still in place and supplemented by the cloud. Losing data, as previously mentioned, can be fatal to a small business and should your business be required to comply with PCI DSS regulations. Should you fail to comply, it’s likely that your business will incur large fines in the event of a breach or data loss as well as harming customer confidence.
The cloud has a lot to offer small businesses both financially and insomuch, as it allows for a more innovative approach to be taken. It’s affordable, it’s highly flexible, and there are now numerous offerings on the market that can be taken advantage of. Whilst initially, businesses worried about the security of the technology, this has always struck me as a little silly as the majority of SMBs fail to protect themselves adequately.
Data centers not only offer enhanced, hardware firewall protection, but are also often physically manned 24/7 and have disaster recovery plans in place to protect should the worst happen. Add to this that hardware failure at a data center means that data is simply routed to a different part of the network, and it’s a no brainer that it’s a better solution than simple tape backup at the premises.
Whatever the size of your business, the cloud has something to offer everyone and can help to protect your company whilst allowing for the use of the latest tech at a low cost.